By Lucian Spataro
You don’t often get a chance in life to “do good” by doing what you love. But in 1989, I did get that chance as I had the opportunity to combine my passion for horses and the environment and “Ride Across America.”
It was then that I embarked on a record-breaking ocean-to-ocean horseback journey to raise awareness of the need for rainforest protection. It started in Los Angeles and ended 2,963 miles away in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland.
Now 20 plus years later, we, as a nation, have arrived at a very important juncture as our human population continues past seven billion people. Our footprint is growing larger every day and if we continue to move forward as we are now, we will most certainly find ourselves at an environmental precipice.
As we look over the edge, we can see very clearly the impact and we can no longer ignore the fact that our actions are fundamentally altering the planet and those natural systems that support life, as we know it.
It is a scary realization but one that represents at the same time a unique and unparalleled opportunity to “right the wrongs” and rally the global community around a common cause that is inherently more important that anything we will ever do as humans past, present, or future.
Our future and that of generations to come is shaped today by our actions and it seems crazy to imagine that as intelligent as we are that we are incapable of making a conscious decision to act in consensus and change our behavior and rise to this challenge.
The urgency is as clear today as it was 20 years ago when we did the ride and why I wrote The Long Ride. Each of us has a part to play and I am playing my part, one that started when I was young.
My interest in the environment had its roots in my youth. My parents introduced me to the world of nature when I was very young, and today, when I look back on my youth, my memories are of my days in Latourette’s Forest, Essex Pond, and Dobson Hollow in southern Ohio.
There were animals everywhere: deer, hawk, quail, largemouth bass, frogs, fireflies and turtles. Through my sometimes aimless wanderings and childhood experiences, I became educated, fascinated and appreciative of the natural world.
I sense that today, children and adults rarely take advantage of, or are exposed to, these kinds of opportunities. Because of this, children today do not feel a connection to the natural world.
We have grown away from nature, thanks in large part to technology. That double-edged sword, with its computers and video games substituting for the appeal many children once found in nature. Without the most basic exposure, we will miss the vital connection we have with natural systems.
We as a society have isolated ourselves within our technology, and no longer feel the real cold or the rain or heat. Few of us question how or where the food we eat is produced. How many of us even know how it gets to our grocers?
We need to rediscover nature and the fascination it held for many of us in years past.
In 1989, as I rode across America, I met many people along the way who, like me, were trying to effect a positive change in their own way and at their own pace.
I have found that everyone really can and does make a difference. I am hoping that these words, and this book, will motivate others to make a similar choice and we can share this moment and ride this road together.
Lucian Spataro is the author of The Long Ride: The Record Setting Journey by Horse Across the American Landscape. The book the recipient of the 2012 IPPY Outstanding Book of the Year Gold Award for the book “Most Likely to Save the Planet.” Lucian is the former director of the academic program on “Sustainable Development” at the University of Arizona and continues to speak to civic, business and environmental groups and to students on sustainability.